BENTONVILLE -- For over 100 years, the statue of a Confederate soldier was the prominent fixture in this town square.
But not on Wednesday as former Gov. Asa Hutchinson took to the steps of the Benton County Courthouse, flanked by seven Gravette Lions cheerleaders, to officially announce that he's running for president of the United States.
"He is a proven leader," Susan Hutchinson, his wife, said in her introduction. "He's gone through the fire. He's ready. Welcome my beloved, and your favorite governor, I should say, Asa Hutchinson."
Chris Stapleton's song "Arkansas" blared from the speakers.
But just for a few seconds.
"Gotta get down, gotta get down to Arkansas," sang Stapleton, as the volume faded and Asa Hutchinson began to speak.
He reminded listeners of his upbringing on a farm near Gravette, cleaning out chicken houses and building fences.
He had a law office on the Bentonville square and practiced law in the courthouse that loomed behind him, draped on Wednesday with gigantic American flags.
"I built Bentonville's first FM radio station," Hutchinson said. "I served as Bentonville's city attorney. But most importantly, this is where Susan and I started our family and spent some of our happiest years living on 15 acres of rocks and hills west of town in a double-wide mobile home."
The crowd applauded, and more than a few of them were probably reminded of former Gov. Mike Huckabee, whose family famously lived in what was dubbed a "triple-wide" mobile home while plumbing and wiring was being replaced in the governor's mansion.
"It's a triple-wide," Huckabee told Jay Leno on The Tonight Show. "It's actually large enough that we can get you and your chin in the whole thing here."
Hutchinson had already announced his candidacy for president on Palm Sunday, April 2, on ABC television's "This Week."
"I have made a decision, and my decision is, I'm going to run for president of the United States," Hutchinson told co-anchor Jonathan Karl.
But that didn't put a damper on Wednesday's announcement in Bentonville.
A crowd of about 400 people attended. That included about 100 fifth- and sixth-graders from Old High Middle School.
"This is very historic," Hutchinson told a small group before the ceremony began. "No one has ever made a presidential announcement from Bentonville, Arkansas. And I took the risk of the rain because I wanted it right here on the square. This is very special to me, because this is where I started my career."
The rain held off until afternoon.
Before the ceremony began, the Springdale Bulldogs High School band played a revolving selection of "The Land of a Thousand Dances," "The Hey Song" and "Go Dogs Go."
Hutchinson graduated from Springdale High School in 1968. That was where "my political awareness began with the nation's divide over the Vietnam War and the struggle for civil rights," he said Wednesday.
Hutchinson plays the trumpet and coronet, his wife told the crowd during her introduction.
"And I taught him to sing," she said. "Give me a piano and I can teach anybody to sing."
The family moved in 1982 when President Ronald Reagan nominated Hutchinson to be the youngest U.S. attorney in the country. The job was based in Fort Smith, a city famous for frontier justice.
"That's the only reason we left this place," Susan Hutchinson told the crowd in Bentonville.
"We finally got to come back, and it was a real homecoming to come back," she said.
Hutchinson served as Arkansas' Third District congressman from 1997 to 2001, director of the United States Drug Enforcement Administration from 2001 to 2003, and undersecretary for border and transportation security at the Department of Homeland Security from 2003 to 2005.
"I saw him go through the crucible," said Susan Hutchinson. "He never lost hope, whether it was the 9/11 attack while he was head of the DEA and trying to track down Osama bin Laden. Yes, DEA agents were also working on it. Not just CIA and FBI. He was there, worried for our nation. Worried [about] a nuclear bomb. Worried at sporting events that something was going to happen.
"All these people could be hurt," she said, choking up. "He worried about that, and he took that responsibility very seriously. So I've seen him go through the fire. I've seen him go through the challenges."
Hutchinson was governor from 2015 until this past January. Because of term limits, he couldn't seek re-election.
In his pre-introduction speech, Barry Moehring, the Benton County judge, wished Hutchinson well on his campaign.
"Asa, I wish you great success on your journey to far-flung places like the Iowa State Fair, the Red Arrow Diner in Manchester, N.H., Beacon's Drive-in in Spartanberg, S.C.," said Moehring. "And on behalf of Benton County, good luck and Godspeed, Asa. Go get 'em."
The Confederate statue is gone from the Bentonville square. After standing there for 112 years, the statue was lifted by a crane from its pedestal in 2020, like a prize in a claw machine at the county fair, and deposited on a flatbed truck to be taken away.
A fountain has replaced the statue.
"Please enjoy yourself and keep all activity respectful," reads a plaque on the fountain. "Admire the fountain, but for your safety, refrain from entering."